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Lecanto a confident finalist

The Panthers' semifinal upset of 10th-ranked Leesburg has them believing they can knock off Citrus.

For the Lecanto Panthers, it really is a question of believing in themselves. And if they don't believe now, they never will.

Of course, that really shouldn't be an issue anymore. Not after Wednesday's shocking win over 10th-ranked and No. 2 seed Leesburg that advanced Lecanto into tonight's Class 2A, District 5 final against Citrus.

Fact is, the Panthers believe anything is possible now, even a win over a team they hadn't beaten in nearly six years.

"We feel that if we can beat a team like Leesburg, we can play with Citrus," said Meghan Vantine, who scored the opening goal in the Panthers' 2-1 win.

Lecanto entered its semifinal with the Yellow Jackets as the district's No. 3 seed and had lost both of its regular-season matchups with Leesburg, including a 4-0 decision in their most recent encounter. Yet the Panthers never lost faith _ not when injuries claimed two starters for the season, not after a 2-0 loss to Citrus, not after that 4-0 loss to Leesburg.

In fact, coach Kevin Towne actually saw the upset coming after a lackluster win over Crystal River in which the Panthers registered 57 shots but only scored twice.

"I think we'll have a better game against Leesburg," Towne said on Monday. "We tend to have a good game coming off a game like this one."

Towne was right. Lecanto took the advantage early on Vantine's goal in the fifth minute and didn't fold when the Yellow Jackets answered on a corner kick opportunity 3 minutes and 20 seconds later.

The deciding goal came from forward Nicole Robinson in the 22nd minute, but the deciding factor was the Lecanto defense and goalkeeper Trish Chenowith, who made 24 saves and helped stave off desperate attack after desperate attack over the final 58 minutes.

"It's great that we're playing (tonight) because, win or lose, we get to go (to the playoffs)," Vantine said. "We've had some tough games with Citrus. We haven't beaten them, but we'd really like to win."

Though his team has beaten the Panthers twice already this season, Citrus coach Brady Bogart isn't taking anything for granted in tonight's final. All along he has predicted a tough matchup in the final, and he expects nothing less against the Panthers.

"I'm glad to see both Citrus County schools in it (the final)," Bogart said. "The last two have been very good games and I expect this one to be too. We expect a tough game. They are hungry, obviously. But we're hungry too."